My Thoughts on The Syracuse Scandal
Arrogant. Smug. Aloof. Out-of-touch. Those are some of the adjectives used by the national media to describe Jim Boeheim’s actions over the last two weeks, since the sexual molestation allegations against longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine broke on ESPN. As those allegations and reports continue to swirl and expand, I’ve been asked a very tough question: should Boeheim be fired?
Whenever somebody asks a question like that, I think the key word is actually missing. When one asks, “should Jim Boeheim be fired,” you’re actually asking, “should he be fired NOW?” Maybe that’s an obvious point to make, but I think it’s a critical distinction to make here.
I believe that the only way Syracuse University should fire Jim Boeheim (at this very moment), is if they feel his insensitive comments about Fine’s accusers are so heinous, that they fault to the level of a fireable offense. Other than his explanations to the media, there’s no way to know what Boeheim knew (or didn’t know) about the allegations against fine.
In the Jerry Sandusky case, the grand jury report points out that assistant coach Mike McQueary came to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in 2002 about an alleged child rape at a PSU shower. According to the testimony, Paterno turned the matter over to the school’s AD and VP of business affairs. In the eyes of the public, that was not nearly enough.
In contrast, the Fine case has no grand jury report, indictments, or charges. There’s a lot of smoke, but not enough actual information for us to figure out what Boeheim knew over the last 35 years. To me, we run into a pretty dangerous realm when we demand for the immediate firing of a third-party to a sexual molestation case. Should the boss of every employee accused of the sexual abuse of children be fired immediately? I think that would be a giant and unnecessary leap.
The key question in these cases is very simple: what did the boss know?
Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com makes a compelling case that SU should fire Boeheim specifically for his aggressive comments immediately after ESPN went public with the Fine allegations. TheBigLead feels that Boeheim should be suspended.
Both are certainly good arguments and well thought out. I’m very much in the wait-and-see camp. Some listeners have accused me of bias because of my Syracuse ties (SU 2008 alum), but I also want to point out that it wouldn’t be fair for me to over-compensate and demand for Boeheim’s firing, to make it seem like I am 100% unbiased.
Like any story I discuss, I’m going to think and talk about it in the best way I possibly can. I want to know more about the allegations and accusations against Bernie Fine. My feeling is that there’s a ton of smoke around his illegal activities, but a court of law requires a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The termination of a third-party (Boeheim) should also require more than a feeling. It demands more facts and information.
I watched Boeheim’s post-Eastern-Michigan news conference with plenty of interest, having been in that room many times. For me, I am troubled by three elements of those 19 minutes:
- Boeheim came across with a sarcastic and flippant attitude that I believe was inappropriate, given the serious nature of the allegations against Bernie Fine. There were some cringe-worthy moments about some of the laughs he tried to draw from the media.
- There’s no question that Boeheim backtracked off his initial defense of Fine. Two weeks ago, Syracuse’s head coach explicitly stated that the accusers were seeking money, implying they were extortion artists. After ESPN published a phone call between Laurie Fine and one of those accusers, Bobby Davis, SU fired Fine. Boeheim released a statement Sunday night saying that he was deeply troubled by the new allegations, and supported the university’s decision. Unless I am stupid (just ask my listeners), it’s very clear that Boeheim took a leap backwards in his defense of Bernie Fine. Yet, Boeheim was asked repeatedly about his change in stance, and acted as if he hadn’t altered course at all over the last two weeks.
- Boeheim claimed that he has very little overall power at Syracuse, citing the fact that he was not asked about the hiring of a new chancellor, Athletic Director, or move to the ACC, “and that’s how it should be.” I have a lot of doubts about whether some of those details are true. How could SU move leagues without consulting a basketball coach who’s been at the school for more than 30 years? How can the AD set up the travel schedule without taking into consideration what the head coach desires? Even past those questions, Boeheim’s rant gave off a “pass the buck vibe.” I don’t believe you can claim to be only responsible for rosters and offensive sets, without having accountability for what happens in your program. This is college basketball, not the NBA.
ESPN.com’s Andy Katz wrote a superb piece about the Syracuse basketball program under Jim Boeheim. As someone who covered the team as a student reporter, that was a brilliant explanation about how things run for the most popular sports team in the Salt City. I’d sum it up this way: if a parent of a good basketball player came to me and said they wanted send their child to a program that constantly monitors them, Syracuse is NOT the place to go.
The hoops team is run almost the way an NBA team is. Completely open practices and fairly good media accessibility are two rare characteristics of a program at that level. Boeheim does not coddle players; they’re expected to show up and get the job done. This is not a place where each player has 5 managers tailing them, figuring out and tracking their every move.
In life, your biggest strengths are oftentimes your biggest weaknesses. On the basketball court, I always felt that Boeheim provided a double-edged sword. He doesn’t run a structured offense much, which draws in terrific recruits and athletes that have the freedom to play and race up and down the court. Sometimes, the team struggles against more tightly coordinated squads like Pittsburgh. On a personal level, Boeheim has exhibited the sarcasm that he displayed Tuesday night for decades. At times, it provides an endearing quality to a curmudgeon. In this case, it could very well hurt him in the court of public opinion.
Overall, I want to know exactly how much Boeheim knew about the allegations against Fine, and if he had any opportunities to step in over the last ten years. Until we all receive that information, I think calls for Boeheim’s job as they relate to the allegations themselves are premature.